Just over a month ago I visited my grandparents’ home in the south-west of England. While wary of their own arguments for independence (running along the lines of ‘so many have over centuries shed blood for independence, it would be a disservice to them not to seize this opportunity’), few have done more than them to inculcate in me a passion for Scotland, which only deepened during my recent studies north of the border. At the end of my visit I left behind a copy of the White Paper, perhaps to serve as a lasting memento of just how close Scotland had come to their long-hoped for aspiration of independence, even after five decades’ worth of residence in England.
I was disappointed by the ensuing defeat and margin of it, even though I had tried hard throughout the campaign to remain receptive to all points of view, despite my relative sympathies towards the ‘Yes’ campaign, and sceptical of the possibility of a win. It is dispiriting when on the cusp of something truly momentous that we are again tuning into the likes of Darling, Brown and some Lord Smith of Kelvin. It was crushing ringing up my Grandma and hearing how she had been in tears upon hearing the final result. And so I tried to cheer up both her and myself, and this is how.
No one gave Yes a hope from the beginning. Given that virtually every single major national and regional news outlet and publication was backing ‘No,’ in tandem with a who’s who of big business leaders and Westminster beasts and dinosaurs, a 45% vote is still a remarkable achievement. The demographic patterns of Yes supporters strongly indicate that this independence-supporting generation will remain politically active for years to come.
The Yes coalition must, with whatever political and social tools at its disposal, deliver on its avowed commitments to a fairer and more prosperous Scotland. Neither independence nor nationalism can be the movement’s sole binding themes in the coming years. The momentum and energy that drove the Yes campaign must be harnessed for the goals of civic solidarity and progress. Reports of the establishment of food banks in central Glasgow and Dundee in the days after the referendum are already promising indicators of this.
It is necessary to fight for greater powers for the Scottish parliament through all means possible; that includes engaging with Westminster politics. More than aware from personal experience of the considerable mishaps of the Russian political opposition in recent years (and disregarding the contrast between the relative democratic and electoral limitations of either setting), I have learned that if you do not enter the electoral fray and attempt to mount a serious challenge, let alone assess the slight possibility of engaging the elites, regardless of the odds stacked against you, you will simply not get anywhere.
Mirroring what I have earlier said, although September 18th was perhaps our most significant constitutional milestone in three centuries, it is premature to assume that this is the end of the road for independence. Not so long ago devolution was unthinkable. Then devolution was meant to ‘kill nationalism stone dead.’ By the climax of the referendum campaign, the discourse had shifted to what an independent Scotland would look like. The centre ground has shifted, and there might be no going back.
Independence may well be the next natural step once whatever however far-reaching version of ‘Devo Max’ is eventually settled on between Holyrood and Westminster. The notion of economic uncertainty ultimately lost Yes the vote; a Scotland eminently capable of raising and managing a far more considerable share of its budget and funds, is, for instance, an evolution necessary for winning the economic argument in the long run.
I have never quite entirely bought into Scottish nationalism, no matter the appeal of its respective narratives. I have though for a long time been convinced of the rights of Scotland’s people to self-determination and enhanced democracy, empowering them to deliver the society they deserve and aspire for. This referendum campaign has persuaded me once and for all that the people of Scotland are more than capable of governing and dictating their own affairs, and to a far greater extent than at present. And while a substantial interpretation of Devo Max is certainly not the worst means for satisfying that potential, neither am I any longer in doubt that independence is beyond us. The vigour, passion and boldness that characterised this gruelling referendum campaign, if anything, were important in reaching that realisation.